2016 WNBA Team Previews: Washington Mystics

 

PG: Ivory Latta/Natasha Cloud

SG: Bria Hartley/Tayler Hill

SF: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt/Kahleah Copper

PF: Emma Meesseman

C: Stefanie Dolson/Kia Vaughn

Plus three out of Tianna Hawkins, LaToya Sanders, Ally Malott and Zoi Dimitrakou. The decision might be made for Mike Thibault if Sanders is staying with the Turkish national team to prepare for the Olympic qualifier. They have the cap room to temporarily suspend Sanders and keep the other 12, if necessary.


Significant additions
: Copper in the draft, and Hawkins back from pregnancy (assuming she makes the roster). Thibault didn’t manage to do much to improve them this offseason.

Significant losses: Kara Lawson is still working for ESPN, and last I heard still thinking about playing at some point this season. But certainly not from the start, and as an unrestricted free agent it wouldn’t have to be for Washington even if she decides to play. Armintie Herrington retired, but did very little for the Mystics last year. Latta had surgery on her knee a few weeks ago, but is expected to return fairly soon.


Overview

And here we have another team that – since Thibault’s arrival – somehow always manages to be more than the sum of its parts. There are no superstars here, although Meesseman is quietly one of the most talented young players in the game, Dolson took a big step forward last season, and Latta can be electric on any given night. They play as a collective group, they battle, they claw out wins you don’t expect them to get, and then every year you look up at the standings and they’re in the thick of the playoff hunt.

With Kia Vaughn injured for much of last season, the post pairing of Meesseman and Dolson had time to gel as the definitive first-choice front line for the Mystics. Meesseman can still be too passive for a player with her level of skill both around the rim and out towards the three-point line, but when they convince her to be aggressive and take everything on offer, she can be a beast. Dolson has grown into a solid and reliable pivot, with a surprising scoring touch. With Vaughn and hopefully Sanders around to back them up, plus whatever Hawkins is capable of returning from pregnancy, Washington have a strong and deep post corps.

The situation on the perimeter is a little dicier. There’s some talent there, but you’re never quite sure who might show up on any given night. Losing Lawson cuts into their shooting, and Latta’s the only one left on the squad that opposition defenses really respect from outside. Hill hasn’t shown anything remotely approaching consistency since entering the league, Cloud was a useful all-purpose guard last year but never showed much scoring ability, and Ruffin-Pratt is a big wing more useful for her defense and physicality than her offense. They’ll be anticipating more from Hartley this year, after she struggled with injuries last season, and hoping that rookie Copper can help out as well. And they’ll be anxious to get Latta back to provide her typical energy and drive at the point of attack. But there’s no one they can truly rely on night-in and night-out.


Best Case Scenario

What they’d love to see is that extra step from Meesseman into becoming a true star, but while she’s still young we’ve been waiting on that for a year or two now. The talent’s not going anywhere, but she doesn’t seem to have the mentality of the real superstars of the women’s game that leads them to dominate when necessary. Beyond that small possibility, it’s hard to see how this team takes a big leap forward. The aim would likely be to stay a strong, good team again – albeit one that few people will expect to go anywhere once the postseason rolls around.


Worst Case Scenario

While building a star-less team makes you less vulnerable to one key injury derailing your season, it also means that a little bit of poor chemistry, or just a run of games where no one steps up from your cast of thousands, can put an ugly dent in the season. Thibault has a history of making sure his teams don’t succumb to those issues, or that they snap out of them fairly quickly, but teams around the league continue to build while Washington return with virtually the same team. It wouldn’t take much for the Mystics to become a ‘slightly worse than .500’ team rather than the ‘slightly better than .500’ team they managed last season.


Overview

On any given night, this squad can beat anyone. If an opposing team looks at the rosters, thinks they’ve got significantly more talent and shows up taking the Mystics lightly, they’ll get beaten. One way or another, Thibault will get his squad to compete, and challenge all-comers. It’d be a surprise if they were outside the battle for the playoffs, but it also seems unlikely that they’ll be serious contenders for the WNBA title in September and October.

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